Updated: Feb 27
What first attracted us to the island of Mauritius was seclusion and natural beauty, but we soon discovered the kaleidoscope of cultures, flavours, languages, faith and tragedy that is embedded its history.
The year was coming to an end, and though we thoroughly enjoyed our time in The Maldives, Dubai and Greece, it had been too long since we just bummed on a beach. Our more recent travels had focused primarily on focused on exploring, packed with busy daily itineraries and little time to stop and relax, so we longed for a beach. The search began in The Caribbean, to islands we had not yet visited, but the threat of overwhelming sargassum turned us away. One night, literally clicking on every island visible on google maps, we discovered Mauritius. We soon booked a week-long stay at LUX Le Morne, a luxury resort located on a less populated stretch of beach, with the impressive Le Morne Brabant Mountain as the backdrop.
We arrived in Mauritius in the early morning, and after nearly 19 hours of flight time, an 8-hour stopover in Austria and an hour-long drive from the airport, we quickly settled into our beachfront bungalow. As we prepared for a day lounging on the beach, a white and ginger kitty walked into our back deck. Friendly and unafraid, she stayed and relaxed in the shade. Thus began our interactions with the animals on the island. This sweet kitty came to visit many times. We left her food, and she gave us cuddles in return. One night, getting ready for bed, we saw movement outside and thought it was our kitty friend, but were surprised to see instead, two small Tailless Tenrecs munching on the ants the food had attracted. Tenrecs are tropical mammals with long snouts, coarse fur and long sharp spines along their body. Young and fearful, they did not stay long. Mauritius, is known for its varied flora and fauna, many of which are endemic to the island. Most famously, it was the only known home of the dodo bird.
TIP: Beware of the Mauritius Wasp. They are surprisingly resilient and extremely painful. Having had the bad luck of being stung twice (once in the arm and once on the fingertip) it is a searing pain that is intense albeit brief. The large orange-yellow wasps like to hide in shady spots during the day and are attracted to the light at night. Our bungalow was equipped with an indoor shower that led to an outdoor shower. The glass doors that separated them did not stretch from ceiling to floor, so the wasps could easily fly inside. Keeping an outdoor light on at night distracts them enough to stay outside.
After a full day on the picturesque white-sand beach, we were mesmerized by an impressive fire show on the beach hosted by LUX Le Morne. The resort was vast and spacious, with private bungalows nestled among the many palm trees. Reviews described a romantic setting with daily surprise events, including pop-up food and cocktail stands, sunsets on the beach with live saxophone music, hidden bottles with spa gifts and champagne with fresh-caught sea urchin. Some events never occurred, while the surprise element was removed from the others. What we found was a resort in existential crisis, welcoming many families with young children (so much so it felt as if we intruded on a summer camp) but still focused on catering to couples.
The next morning, we headed off the resort to Casela. Housing a large number of wild animal residents, Casela claims to be involved in the conservation and protection of endangered species in Mauritius and boasts once in a lifetime animal interactions. The day began with walking into a cage for one-on-one time with a Cheetah. Following the strict direction of the handler, we were able to pet and scratch the head of the fastest animal in the world. Later, we would have similar experiences with both a Serval and a Caracal, two of the smaller wild cats with big attitudes. Next, we followed the keepers into a large enclosure with a group of nine-month-old lion cubs. The mixture of male, female, yellow and white cubs played with each other indiscriminately, jumping in the small pool of water and tussling around in the mud while we stood back and snapped photos.
After the cubs, we prepped for a long walk in the forest with lions. Armed with strict instructions and walking sticks, a small group entered a sealed forest area and waited for the lions to arrive. Walking calmly alongside their handler, emerged a male yellow lion (Mambo) and a white female lion (Makali). Both were large, menacing and beautiful. The guide explained that lions do not reach full maturity until age seven, when they would be too old and confident to be taken on a walk. At three, these lions were old enough to listen and follow, but not old enough to confidently lead. Over the next hour, we walked, watched them climb trees, and had the opportunity to touch them. Mambo remained calm and disinterested, while Makali strayed from the path and stalked the group from behind the trees. Each time, the group huddled together to appear more intimidating while the handlers coaxed her back onto the trail, but eventually they decided the risk was too high and walked Makali back, while we continued on with Mambo alone. The experiences left us exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed, but before heading back we made one more stop to hand feed the gentle giraffes.
NB: We do not endorse or encourage in any way shape or form, canned hunting or captive breeding for the purposes of entertainment or sport. Prior to booking, we researched Casela extensively and found no complaints of mistreatment or their involvement in canned hunting. Though we did not witness mistreatment and felt the handlers loved and respected the animals, the interactions lean to the exploitation of wildlife for entertainment. We have since learned of similar wildlife parks that manipulate the public into believing that the captivity is for the benefit of the animal and the experiences help fund their conservation efforts, but in fact they participate in captive breeding, sell to canned hunting and euthanize for convenience. Though we enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the animals, the experience is scarred, and we now regret the decision to support an industry that exploits the wildlife we love.
On day three, we relaxed on the beach, sipping on tropical fruit smoothies and snorkeling as much as our tired bodies would allow. The next morning, in the soft pink sunrise, we walked along the beach to meet a boat and her two-man crew. Reluctant to join the crowds, we arranged for a private boat through Karlos Excursions to (hopefully) swim with wild dolphins. We soon arrived at one of the many known spots for dolphin sightings to join the two other small speed boats in the area. The boat circled slowly, creating the bubbles the dolphins enjoyed playing in and on the crews command, we jumped into the ocean, snorkel gear on, water cameras in hand.
On the first three jumps, we saw both Bottlenose and Spinner dolphins for brief seconds but could not keep up with the ferocious swimmers. The fourth jump was magical. Swimming hard and fast, we approached the pod of at least twenty Spinner dolphins quickly. At first, we snapped as many photos as we could, but the silence of the ocean overtook us, and we simply watched in awe. The pops and clicks of the dolphins communicating became louder as more dolphins emerged from the sides to join the pod. Below us, there were even more, dolphins of all sizes, families, swimming together. They took little notice of us, not seeming alarmed in any way. For a moment, we were surrounded by what was visibly fifty dolphins, swimming together in the same direction. And just as quickly, they began swimming deeper and we watched as they disappeared into the deep blue.
Want to see the video? Click here to jump in and swim with the dolphins.
We relaxed for the next 48 hours, enjoying the luxuries offered at LUX Le Morne. Our only activity was planting a tree. LUX Le Morne graciously allowed us to plant a coconut palm on the grounds, directly in front of our bungalow, in honour of my dad who passed.
On day five we arose early once again, but this time headed to the mountain. We were privileged to be paired with a local guide for a private hike to the half-way point of the UNESCO Heritage Site: Le Morne Brabant Mountain. His grandfather was a Shaman, and his family held a special connection to the mountain and its history. Though he told us stories from his personal history, we hiked slowly, often in silence, and paused frequently to enjoy the view. There were many who passed us, who hiked quickly for intense exercise, and those who felt the need to hike with music blaring from their cellphones. Some places have a history that radiates so loudly, one should be forced into silence. This was one of those places.
He also enlightened us on the mountains dark and tragic history as a shelter for runaway slaves. In the seventeenth century, the first slaves were brought to Mauritius from Madagascar to work on plantations. Over the next two hundred years, huge numbers of slaves were also brought in from India and Africa. Large numbers escaped their captors and took refuge up Le Morne Brabant, protected by the dense forests. These slaves were called Maroons, and over time, Mauritius, an important stopover in the Eastern Slave Trade, came to be known as the Maroon Republic.
The cliffs were virtually inaccessible, but our guide showed us how they survived using the tools nature provided. The Maroons formed small settlements in the caves and on the summit, surviving off the land. In 1835, slavery was abolished in Mauritius. Army officials approached the base of the mountain and began to climb, informing the Maroons that they were now free. Tragically, fearing the authorities were lying, many plummeted to their deaths, choosing to jump to avoid being punished for escaping and enslaved once again. The International Slave Route Monument sits at the foot of Le Morne Brabant. On the hike up, another plaque was erected, honouring the mountain as a place of resistance. The oral traditions, like the one we shared on our hike, have made Le Morne Brabant a symbol of the slaves suffering, sacrifice and the fight for freedom.
On our last full day in Mauritius, we hired a driver for the afternoon. The first stop was The Rhumerie de Saint Aubin, a rum distillery located on a large plot of land in southern Mauritius, where they have been manufacturing sugar cane since 1918. We hold quality rum in high regard and often seek out new flavours when travelling. Most rum around the world is made from molasses, a by product of sugar refining. In 1811, when France began to make sugar from sugar beets, cane juice became available for fermenting and distilling into rum. Cane juice rums from Mauritius are labeled AOC because French and European law allowed a designation called Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (protected designation of origin) for rums produced on the island that meet certain local standards.
After a short tour of the shop and an explanation on how the rum is made, we sampled their flavoured rums. The only rum we did not get the opportunity to taste was the very first bottle our tour guide pointed out: A single cask extra old (aged 15 years), Maison du Rhum, made from pure Mauritius sugar cane, created to commemorate the bicentenary of the Moulin de Saint Aubin. A limited series of only 309 bottles. After the explanation, we immediately said we would take it and our tour guide laughed. Once she was certain we were serious, she was elated and explained that we were the first to ever purchase one directly from the shop (all having been shipped overseas to collectors around the world).
From the distillery, we headed to Vallée des Couleurs, also known as the 23 Coloured Earth. Spread over 450 acres of land emerge brightly coloured patches of earth, a unique geological feature. The colours are a phenomenon resulting from the volcanic eruption of the Bassin Blanc volcano, unique to Mauritius and this part of the island. Discovered only in 1998, the area has been developed into a nature park. We were given a tour of the grounds and an up-close look (and feel) of the coloured earth. The soft sand crumbles between your fingers like thick chalk, exposing different patterns of colours and lines.
In the darkness of night, we headed to the airport, where we picked up a small bottle of souvenir rum, the glass shaped in such a way that a dodo bird appears inside. The sealed bag was placed on the luggage scanner during the security check, and we happened to catch a glimpse of the inspectors’ screen as the bottle went through, the shape was clearly visible on the x-ray scan. Safe and sound at home, we celebrated with a taste of our latest edition to our special rum collection. There was so much more we would have loved to explore. Mauritius is a special kind of unique that should be experienced to the fullest.